March 5, 2024

Former Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome should be first person inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame TWICE

When owner Art Modell moved the Cleveland franchise to Baltimore in the spring of 1996, Ozzie and I went as part of a skeleton staff. Roughly a month out from the draft, we all looked to Ozzie for direction because he was our leader despite not having the general manager title. He had never run a draft before, but I watched him orchestrate one of the greatest examples of leadership I have ever seen.

We had the fourth and 26th overall picks in the 1996 NFL Draft, and like every owner, Art wanted to know the landscape of how the first round might shake out. Ozzie was explaining how we had our eye on UCLA offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden at No. 4, and Art interrupted with something along the lines of: “Oz, I trust and respect you, but I have to start making money. That’s why we moved. Tackles don’t sell tickets, but running backs do. Tell me about Lawrence Phillips.”

Phillips was a highly touted running back out of Nebraska, but he carried some serious off-field concerns. Once we came on the clock with the fourth overall pick on draft day, Ozzie made the decision to draft Ogden. It had to be hard for Ozzie to go against what Art, who had become an important figure in Ozzie’s life, seemed to want in that moment, but he handled the situation with such grace, thoughtfulness and strength. He was humble and did it with no air of defiance or disrespect. Phillips ultimately was drafted sixth overall by the Rams, but his career was derailed by off-field problems that eventually landed him in prison on a 31-year sentence. He passed away while incarcerated in 2016.

Selecting Ogden and Ray Lewis (at No. 26) in that first round was where Ozzie’s legacy as an elite executive began, setting the foundation for stability and success within the franchise. Many were able to observe Ozzie’s brilliance through the results of his decisions in the draft and free agency, but I had the opportunity to witness the day-to-day approach that made him so good. Ozzie had a Hall of Fame playing career and was an experienced personnel evaluator, but he always listened to other viewpoints and was constantly seeking to learn. He had a balance of humility and confidence that you rarely see, and typically when he spoke, you could hear a pin drop in the room. That’s how respected Ozzie was. He combined a reservoir of knowledge with experience and the quiet confidence to make decisions without regret. He was collaborative long before that became a catchphrase.

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